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Restigouche River, New Brunswick

"Always Richard" by Galen Mercer, a portrait of Restigouche River Guide Richard Adams
Always Richard (oil on canvas) by Galen Mercer, a portrait of Restigouche River Guide Richard Adams.

   The people who shout "Go home, damn Americans" never met Katherine Parsons, who built her Boland Brook camp upstream from Camp Harmony on the Upsalquitch in 1937. This courageous, independent woman spent two months a year on the Upsalquitch every summer for more than 50 years until she was well into her 90s.

   Parsons grew up in Rye, New York, and for many years travelled to New Brunswick and Nova Scotia to fish salmon. One day a family friend happened to mention that some land was for sale on the Upsalquitch.

   "Walking home, it just went around in circles inside me," she said. "My father had died and we'd sold the family house in Rye. I was on the loose - my mother had died many years before. I thought to myself, 'wouldn't it be wonderful if I could get this land and have a camp up there?'

   "I got a guide and went up there by canoe to look at it and lost my heart to it."

   She built her camp four miles upstream from where the last road ended. Her journey to the river was an ordeal in itself. She would catch the 4 p.m. train from New York to Boston and then the overnight train to Van Buren, Maine. Her guides would meet here there and drive her the 80 miles to the end of the road. Then, they would travel to the camp on a horse-drawn barge. One man would stand in the front of the barge with a pole, another in the rear with a sweep, moving the craft from side to side searching for deep water and good footing for the horse.

   During one of her last summers at Boland Brook, Parsons nearly died on the river. She was happily fishing one of her favourite pools when suddenly she passed out in the canoe. The guides took her downstream by canoe and then she was rushed by ambulance to hospital in Campbellton.

   When her nephew, Livy Parsons, arrived at the hospital, she said, "Livy, thank God you're here. You know I've done a very foolish thing. I was fishing at the Falls and had a heart attack and I'd just had a good rise."

   She returned to Boland Brook to recover, against the wishes of her family (although Livy, a salmon fisherman himself, was supportive). The afternoon she returned, she received a call from the Department of Natural Resources. A forest fire was burning out of control 60 miles from the camp and all residents of the area were being evacuated. She refused to leave, and eventually spoke directly with Bud Bird, who was then minister of natural resources, and he arranged to allow her to stay at her camp. The fire never reached Boland Brook.

   In Ernest Hemingway's short story, "Big Two-Hearted River," his protagonist, Nick, returns to a river he had known years before. He leaves the train to find that a fire had burned the forest and the town beside the river.

   "There was no town, nothing but the rails and the burned -over country. The thirteen saloons that had lined the one street of Seney had not left a trace. The foundations of the Mansion House hotel stuck up above the ground. The stone was chipped and split by the fire. It was all that was left of the town of Seney. Even the surface had been burned off the ground."

   But Hemingway notes that "the river was there," swirling against the bridge. The trout were there, holding themselves silently in the current.

   "Nick's heart tightened as the trout moved. He felt all the old feeling."

   On the last morning of our Patapedia trip this summer, we floated a couple of miles downstream from our Mile 14 camp and then stopped to fish trout at a log jam under a deep-blue sky, the air cooled by a wind just strong enough to keep the flies away.

   These log jams have become permanent fixtures on the river. The river turns a 90-degree corner at the jam causing logs to pile up each spring. The current is drawn down under the water-logged wood. It seems most of this river's trout live in these places.

   Bright fish, speckled with the grey and red colours of the river bottom, leapt out of the water to drown dry flies that we floated past the sunken logs. We took other trout on minnow flies as they fed in the ripples above the jam.

   When we tired of the trout fishing, we launched the canoe and floated lazily downstream again in search of salmon until we reached an old white-washed log cabin on the New Brunswick side of the river.

   We pulled the canoe up on the gravel beach, set up our gas stove on a wooden table on the front porch and fried trout in olive oil. We boiled coffee with water from the stream and picked wild raspberries for dessert, lingering over coffee to continue a conversation that had begun two days before. We sat in silence so we could hear the music of the running water - a distant roar from a small rapid upstream mingling with the ripples in the shallow flats in front of the cabin.

   The cabin has no official owner, no lock on the door. The floor was swept clean by the last person who stopped here, the bunks had been recently repaired. A pile of split firewood had been stacked near the rusting Enterprise wood cook stove. The people who had been there before us were determined to leave the place a little better than they had found it.

   The sandy beach in front of the cabin is eroding and in a few years the old structure will begin to wash downstream in the spring freshet, which will be sad to see, but like all movements associated with this river, beautiful in its own way.

This article was taken from the New Brunswick Reader, August 29/98

Philip Lee is editor-in-chief of the Telegraph Journal.

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